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Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) has just finished his 25 years in the joint and he's eager to start fresh. He meets with his parole officer, gets himself a job - and reconnects with his old partner's son, Ethan (Luke Kirby).
But Foley's chance meeting with Ethan almost causes his undoing, as it introduces the fiery Iris (Ruth Negga) into his life and threatens to pull Foley back into the very world that he wants so dearly to escape.
But meeting Iris quickly becomes a great thing for Foley. The two become more and more intertwined as a couple. In fact they become so close that there are no secrets between them. Except, as Foley finds out from Ethan, one. It's a secret that could tear Foley and Iris apart and twist the knife that knowing the secret himself has thrust into Foley's heart.
Ethan uses this secret as leverage to bring Foley in for one more big score. But will Foley go along with it? Will he be able to keep Iris in the dark or will she be able to handle the terrible truth? Most importantly, even if forced once more into the world that he vowed to leave behind, can Foley emerge once more as The Samaritan?
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For a Canadian film, The Samaritan is a slick picture that weaves a wondrous atmosphere around its viewer. From the dank streets of Toronto to a moody, Peter-Gabriel-esque sound track, this movie is one that offers more than just an escape, it offers a rewarding journey through the darkest of places.
Samuel L. Jackson gives a much more muted performance than in most of his other movies, as his is a character who's more reflective than violent. But this works well with the other elements of the movie and really helps to sustain its atmosphere. Also, Luke Kirby plays a perfect slime ball, while Ruth Negga does well as an addled lost woman.
But slick production values and strong casting aside, this movie pulls out one of the few trumps in the noir genre: the Oldboy card.
The twist that Oldboy deploys in its narrative is more elaborately delivered, but the pared down version found in The Samaritan is incredibly effective. What's more, it also takes some extra time to give greater depth to the entanglement between characters. Further, this device is such a rarity in Western cinema that it comes as a welcome surprise.
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At the same time, The Samaritan is not without its problems.
The pacing of Foley and Iris' relationship is too fast, for starters. Not that a guy who's just gotten out of prison wouldn't fall for a girl like Iris as quickly as he does, but rather there's very little chemistry between them until Foley takes the initiative.
This makes sense, since Foley plays as the world-weary and in-control ex-con all the way through, while Iris is very much caught up in the world of the pimp's fist: opening to dispense coke, and closing to dole out cruel slavery. This dynamic later becomes something more, as Foley strives to help Iris get herself straightened out, but their bumpy start can't be ignored.
The movie's initiating moment, the one that sets up Ethan's and Foley's motivation for the whole of the movie, is also questionable.
In this moment, Foley is faced with the choice of seeing his best friend and partner being killed before being killed himself, or killing that friend, taking the fall, and having to live through prison. The way that this moment is introduced and then developed over the course of the movie does nothing to show us why Foley chose to live rather than die a Roman death.
After all, when he comes out of prison everything has changed, everyone he meets from his old life says that what they did was "1000 years ago," and he has no connections on the outside whatsoever. We don't even see any reason for Foley to have killed Ethan's father aside from his own cowardice (or, in Ethan's words, "to save his sorry ass").
It could be argued that this is how we're supposed to regard Foley throughout the picture, but this doesn't jive with his actual character as we see him. Throughout the movie he's calm, collected, and entirely together - he knows exactly what he's doing, how to do it, and how to keep calm while doing it. His is not the shakey hand of the coward, but the steady one of the expert.
Maybe there was some pivotal, off-camera moment in prison that turned him from craven to maven, but we don't see it and this creates a distracting disconnect between his apparent motivation for saving himself rather than just dying with his friend. And since the moment in which Foley made this decision is what leads to the rest of the movie, the plot itself is undermined.
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The Samaritan is a movie that very clearly explains its own lukewarm reception.
Samuel L. Jackson is famous for starring in movies that grab your attention, shake you for an hour and a half and then leave you reeling. Likewise, film noir is a genre known for characters and plots that seize your interest and sweep you around from situation to situation until things conclude in a twist of some sort. Combine these two together, and you rightfully expect a twisted thrill ride that delivers atmospheric, hard-boiled action.
However, this just isn't the case.
The thrills are there, as are the twists and the characters, but nothing necessarily grabs and holds you. The whole movie is better described as a film that very clearly proclaims "I'm noir! ...and I'll just be right over there, okay?"
To really appreciate this movie, you need to be willing to take an active role. Not so that you can follow its complexities, but becuase the movie's not going to do much holding for you. It's a movie to get lost in rather than to be lost in. And that is a very refreshing change from movies in the action/noir genre that try to bludgeon their viewers with madcap sprees.
So, Freya, find this one brooding in the Field of Fallen Films, and bring it up, for it's truly a one that deserves to be seen.
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Tomorrow, watch for Annotated Links #19, and on Sunday for a look back/look ahead entry.
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